Seeking the Elephant does the impossible
While he is plainly of Persian descent, Nima Motahari was brought up in England.
When he moved to Spokane in the early 1990s, there was one difference that stood out: a shortage of original music.
“Everywhere I went, all these bars had bands that were playing other people’s music. It was strange,” Motahari says.
“In England, you could go to different bars and clubs and here different music – anything from punk to jazz – every night of the week. When I went out here, there were all of these great musicians playing Madonna songs.”
So the singer/guitarist started his own band, Turning Point, playing what he called “light pop stuff” with Armando Arguello on bass and Robert Harmon on drums.
After finding early popularity from the live shows, Turning Point hit a tipping point when the group started getting radio airplay.
“It was supposed to be for fun but we started seeing some growth and it was time to take it seriously,” Motahari said.
So he changed the name to Seeking the Elephant and began touring around the Northwest and picking up props from regional media outlets.
“ ‘Seeking the elephant’ is an English proverb,” Motahari says. “It means, ‘Trying to do the impossible.’ I thought trying to start a band in Spokane was seeking the elephant.”
With the birth of his son, Motahari decided traveling was no longer his cup of tea, so he pulled The Elephant back to an annual performance at the The Met – now the Bing Crosby Theater.
The shows weren’t as frequent, but they weren’t just shows, either. They were full-on productions, incorporating dance groups of various ethnicities.
“We turned it into a celebration of colors with dance groups of different colors – a Spanish group, a Filipino group, a Middle Eastern group and an African group with drummers,” Motahari says.
“The kind of show we put on took an enormous amount of manpower. We’re talking five or six months of preparation.”
About a decade ago, Motahari shut down Seeking the Elephant altogether to focus on raising his son. Over the years, friends and fans have tugged at him to put the band back together.
Now that his son is grown, he decided to do just that and play the Bing one more time – one last time, if it were up to him, he says. And he’s hired a professional video and audio crew to document it.
Motahari, who works by day as an architectural engineer for Native American business Womer and Associates, says Seeking the Elephant may pop up now and then to play shows here and there.
But he doesn’t anticipate tonight’s large-scale production happening again in the future.
The show will be kicked off by dance groups Desert Silk, Hasna Haddiyah and Koreshakti Tribal Fusion, and singer-songwriter Chuck Evans. Also joining Seeking the Elephant onstage is guitarist Rick Mathews.
As he makes his re-entry into live music – no matter how temporary – Motahari sees far more bands playing original music in town, but far fewer venues to host them.
“I’m pretty disappointed in Spokane’s nightlife,” he says. “I went out the other day to check out the venues and there are so few places that do original music. When we started out there weren’t any and by the end there were many.
“You’re not going to move the elephant overnight. You have to nudge and nudge and eventually it takes a step in the direction you want it to, and you have to acknowledge that as an accomplishment.”